Military veteran says video games fueling violent culture

National and local news cycles seem to be dominated by horrific stories of violence and murder. In fact, according to the FBI there were nearly 15,000 murders in 2015 alone, leaving many wondering what’s behind the rise in violent crimes and what can be done to stop it.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman spent a total of 23 years leading U.S. soldiers and is a former West Point psychology professor who has become a noted scholar and expert on human aggression, violence and killing. Grossman, the author of “Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing,” believes video games and our media culture can be blamed for the rise in violence in our society.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics says media violence is the most remediable factor,” Grossman told “It’s the one if we did something about it we would have the greatest impact on violence in our society.”

Beyond the common refrain that our media culture desensitizes us to violence, Grossman said exposing children to the violent imagery depicted in videos games is classic B.F. Skinner operant conditioning, which refers to how human behavior is a result of reinforcement to a stimuli. This conditioning, as Grossman pointed out in his previous book “On Killing,” is how law enforcement and soldiers are trained for combat.

“Anybody who’s been in the Armed Forces or law enforcement in the last 50 years [knows] you don’t shoot bulls-eye targets, you shoot man-shaped silhouette, a photo realistic target,” Grossman said.

The idea behind this training is to make the action an instinctive response to a life-threatening situation. It also trains the brain to overcome the natural aversion to harming or even killing another human being. When children shoot other “humans” in video games it is doing the same kind of conditioning, but without the abundance of training and safeguarding taken with law enforcement and soldiers.

“The primate goal right now is educating parents and educating children,” Grossman said. He also said that regulating the sale of certain violent video games to minors is important. Grossman firmly believes removing this stimuli can diminish violence. He pointed to a Stanford medical school demonstration that had students in a K-12 school turn off TV, movies and video games for ten days to bolster his point.

“[It] cut violence in half, cut bullying in half and raised test scores double digits,” Grossman said.

Brain scans conducted by the Indiana University Medical Department showed a physical change to the brain of teens who are exposed to violent imagery. Grossman’s book highlighted the study that showed a lower use of the logical parts of the brain in those who consumed violent media. These teens had lower activity in the parts of the brain that weigh consequences and make decisions.

Grossman hopes we can curb violence in the United States by decreasing the use of violent media and imagery.

He likened children’s relationship to the video games to an addiction, pointing out how children seemingly undergo a detox period when the games are taken away.

“The first two days the child is miserable they are going withdrawal symptoms. But on the third day it’s like somebody threw a switch,” Grossman said, adding that the brain changes when exposed to violent imagery.